9.JAN.2020 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

The first week of motherhood is one of the most difficult, and many new mothers may not be prepared for the emotional challenges that come with it. Up to 80% of mums may experience the baby blues, which can come as a shock.

What are the baby blues?

The baby blues, also known as postpartum blues, refer to a short-term dip in mood after having a new baby. This usually shows up around 2 – 3 days after giving birth. Most mothers usually overcome this ‘down’ period within a week or two, and get back to feeling like their normal selves again.

Baby Blues Symptoms

How do you actually identify a case of baby blues? Here are some of the telltale symptoms.

  • Mood swings that may leave you feeling angry or sad for no reason
  • Feeling irritable or snappy
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling guilty that you’re not happy
  • Fatigue
  • Changes to your appetite

What causes the baby blues?

It’s believed that changes in hormone levels after having a baby can trigger the baby blues and leave mothers feeling unbalanced. Oestrogen levels alone drop by more than 100 times in the 3 days after giving birth. This, along with the many other chemical changes occurring in the body post birth can cause a temporary low point.

This is compounded by the stresses of parenthood. The responsibility of looking after a child, mastering breast or bottle feeds, constant waking through the night and a mother’s physical recovery are big things to overcome. It’s unsurprising that many women don’t feel themselves.

Spotting the signs

Signs of baby blues
Many women don’t tell others about their feelings because they think they should be happy after having a baby. Often women struggle during the first few weeks in silence. Caregivers, friends and relatives can look out for these general indicators of the baby blues:

  • The person is quieter than usual
  • They don’t seem focused
  • They might not be too interested in their baby
  • They might be suddenly teary or upset
  • They might snap unnecessarily at someone
  • They refuse food

Remember, the baby blues are very common, so being proactive and paying attention to someone who has just given birth can help them overcome the condition.

Supporting someone through the baby blues

The baby blues are temporary, so doctors do not usually treat the condition with any kind of medication. Instead, emotional support, counselling, and patience can help a new mum get through this period.

If you may be suffering from the baby blues, here are some ways to cope:

  • Speak with a friend, or a counsellor

  • Seek help from family or friends for things such as cooking or housework. Consider a confinement nurse to help take care of your additional needs during your recovery and baby care post-partum

  • Take a break and go out for some fresh air. An easy work can help too

  • Book yourself a post-natal massage

  • Ask your partner for help and support, especially during the night feeds

Remember, the baby blues are temporary, and you will start to feel better after a few weeks.

A healthy diet

A balanced diet is especially important during the postpartum recovery period. Eating the right food will help you feel better mentally and physically, even if your appetite may be poor. Engaging a confinement nurse can help as well because they will prepare meals specifically designed to help you feel better. If not, focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

When it’s more than the baby blues

Postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis
While the baby blues are temporary, there are times when things could be more serious than just a low mood. Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are much more serious conditions. The symptoms are easily confused, so it’s important to know the difference.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Consistently low mood
  • Feeling like you can’t enjoy anything
  • No connection with your baby
  • Overwhelming stress and anxiety about your baby
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

Postpartum depression can last for a long time, and can happen any time during the first year of your baby’s life. Unlike the baby blues, it won’t go away on its own and medical treatment is advised. Counselling or anti-depressants can help in recovery.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis

  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Desire to harm your baby or others
  • Paranoia
  • Mania

Postpartum psychosis, also known as puerperal psychosis, is very rare. It is a severe mental illness and requires urgent treatment to prevent harm to you or your baby. Postpartum psychosis can develop very quickly, as early as a few hours after childbirth. It is more common in women with a history of mental illness. Most women recover completely from this condition with medical treatment.

Taking care of yourself

Self care
The best way to beat the baby blues is to focus on taking care of yourself. It’s easy to devote all your time to your baby, but a little self-care goes a long way.

Enlist the support of family and friends as that can help a new mother feel better. And remember, if you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of depression or mental illness, it’s important to help them seek medical attention from a doctor.

 

Article reviewed by Dr John Yam, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital

Reference

Feeling depressed after childbirth (2018, Aug 24) Retrieved 26/7/19 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/feeling-depressed-after-birth/

Fischer, K. (2013, Nov 19) Baby Blues or Something More? What You Should Know About Postpartum Depression. Retrieved 26/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/mental-what-women-should-know-about-postpartum-depression-111913#1

Johnson, T. (2019, Mar 19) Is it Postpartum Depression or Baby Blues? Retrieved 26/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/depression/postpartum-depression/postpartum-depression-baby-blues#2

The baby blues: what to expect. (2018, Jan.) Retrieved 26/7/19 from https://www.nct.org.uk/life-parent/how-you-might-be-feeling/baby-blues-what-expect

9.JAN.2020
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Yam Pei Yuan John
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Gleneagles Hospital